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New Tricks for Facebook

29 Apr

Facebook can’t exactly be called an old dog (at 7 years and counting its younger than many of man’s best friends) but more and more talk has been conspiring about new uses for the social networking site. The flexibility of communication available on the software platform allow facebook to do many more things then its core functions. Applications are a given part of facebook, many a high school student or grandmother spend hours playing mafia wars or developing a virtual world on farmville. The key to a new trick is when you take the existing elements available and find totally new uses for it. In recent months a few interested proposals for new tricks for facebook have arisen.

Agile Management

There are many different styles of project management but my personal favorite is the agile way. Finding the perfect piece of software to handle agile project management is an ongoing mission of mine (right now I’m pretty happy with Assembla). I was excited to see someone suggest that facebook groups be used as a way of managing an agile project. Sure there are issues like code repositories (if you’re developing software) but for many projects facebook could be just as viable as basecamp.

News Reporting

Journalism is no longer a fringe use of facebook. The rise of fan pages like that of NPR’s have married the two nicely. The use of facebook as a news source is still a little less set in stone. Facebook, much like twitter, is crowd sourcing at its finest. Everyone publishes information about an event/story and then others connect to that item comment on it and share their perspectives. With some search skills and third party tools facebook has a lot of potential for journalists.

Politics

The 2008 Obama campaign reached out to young voters like never before. The use of facebook and social media at large was a significant change from prior campaigns and has now come to be accepted as a necessity for all politicians. Facebook allows politicians to connect with individuals in ways that are time sensitive, subject relevant and accountable. A great example of merging social media and politics is the fan page of Oakland Mayor, Jean Quan. Her facebook presence promoted fans to share relevant information about the issues prior to election and now that she’s mayor it serves as a sounding board for the community. Kind of like a 24/7 town hall meeting.

The Face of the News

28 Apr

Way back when news was presented as a collection of small stories compiled into a portable paper. Before that, it was mostly shouted through the streets or passed from person to person by story telling. Now, the news can be found everywhere – available on computers, phones, and tablets; by radio or television; and even displayed on the large monitors at Starbucks.

With the onset of the news being available almost anywhere to almost anyone they topic of conversation is no longer how or where to get the news but rather what is the best way to present and receive news. In the past I’ve written about various methods of news aggregation and for the most part I really like these for my day to day news intake; however, other social media solutions can provide amazing and specialized news distribution methods.

Facebook is the best example of a site that has come to be a pivotal source for news gathering and dissemination. The core of facebook is communication and connection with friends and family – this hints to the early days of news when it was spread from person to person by word of mouth. In many ways facebook has become the source for hyperlocal relevant news from and for those you care about most.

Curation

6 Apr

Curation has become a hot buzzword in the internet circles of bloggers and journalists as of late. The reception of the new term (well new to this context) has been mostly positive; however, a few people have kindly pointed out that the term might be more buzz than substance when it comes to journalism. There is discussion of whether a curator is really just an editor in the news process – I see it as a little more abstract than that.

My personal feeling is that curation will hold a very significant role in the future of content on the internet but I don’t see it as journalistic role. I think the that the concept of time and timeliness which is a major aspect of journalism does not exist in the same context in curation. Instead, I see the content curators as a separate group which may be used by many journalists but aren’t really journalists themselves.

At its core the role of a curator is to aggregate and organize a collection. In the context of content this could be called a librarian, which would make libraries and media databases the home for content collections. Historically paper newspapers have been collected by libraries and stored on microfiche for later reference by anyone who is interested. The act of managing that data sounds much like the role of a content curator.

The other thing I find interesting is the idea of curators adding analysis and editorial to their collections – in some ways this seems counter to the role. If curators are drawing conclusions then where do people go for facts? Obviously to be able to organize and catalog content and other data its is very helpful to have an extensive understanding of the subject but if curator both controls the content and produces analysis about the content then we’ve missed the role of academics and could easily risk losing out on the importance of primary resources for individuals.

If curators don’t do analysis the question becomes whether their role is really needed in this ever more tech savvy world. A new app called MemoLane curates and archives the online life of an individual. This same approach could easily be taken with regards to a subject or set of subjects. Access to information is the key to the success of the “information age” the only questions left is how we will get there and who will control it?

Susan Mernit on Social Media

25 Mar

Recently I had the chance to talk with Susan Mernit about the role of social media in journalism. Susan is a long time blogger and reporter who started the site OaklandLocal. In her words OaklandLocal is:

[A news site] centered on issues including environmental justice, food distribution,transportation, development & housing, and gender & identity, OaklandLocal aggregates information and news  from local non-profits and community organizations working on these topics within a range of Oakland neighborhoods. We are committed to diverse voices, reader engagement, deep issue coverage and local commentary.

Any reader that spends time on OaklandLocal will get a good taste of the diversity in stories that make up Oakland. The site does a great job of covering news from various neighborhoods and across a number of topics. When asked about the role that social media has had in finding stories, Susan explained that social networking like twitter and facebook have made it much easier to locate the stories that don’t get covered in the mainstream and national media. This approach to story finding means that OaklandLocal  provides a truly fresh and new perspective to the news, rather than just repeating the same stories as other news sources.

Another aspect discussed in detail with Susan was the separation of the personal and public aspects of social media. An avid user of twitter, facebook and scribe, Susan shared that she only uses a single account for both professional and personal interactions on each service. Susan mentioned that there are downsides to this approach and that frequently she has to be overly aware of her wording when reading an interesting article or posting about it because its easy for a simple post to appear as an endorsement from her and subsequently an endorsement from the site – when in actuality it was just an interesting article. The extra hassle isn’t a deterrent however; Susan, continues to post as herself and be honest about her opinions on a frequent basis via social media.

When asked about how much of an asset social media is to the reporting process, especially for a web based news site, I was surprised by her answer. Susan explained that she had been writing online since the early days of blogging and in the beginning there wasn’t the convenience of social media to find stories or develop community around them. She explained that in those early days her goals were still the same, find often over-looked stories and share them with the community, but she did so by talking to people and networking in real life. I followed up on this idea by asking if the types of input she received had changed since moving to more social media and online networking. Susan’s impression was that while there are more people available at any given point with social media, the total number of opinions and viewpoints seemed to be pretty similar as to when all of her information gathering happened outside the internet.

Honesty was really the backbone of the message Susan had to share. The principles and idea that journalists are people first and as people they can’t help but have opinions. She shared that in her own writing she doesn’t strive to be without any personal stance on an issue but rather to just present all possible sides to every story – allowing news to be more about openness, transparency and dialog rather than simply marketing itself as unbiased. This approach is what makes OaklandLocal a unique asset to the hyperlocal news community. The ability to come to seek out stories, share them with the community and then allow for open discussion to commence from there.

Can You Even Call It Journalism?

18 Mar

Recent years have seen an onslaught of what is termed ambush journalism. Called so for the style in which “journalists” will surprise their subjects with out of context questions and ask for responses to false facts. The most sever of these ambushes involving  complex plots of deception that seem more like movie storylines than journalistic research. Since the result of ambush techniques frequently involves extensive editing prior to release to the public many believe that these stories are not journalism at all but rather a from of fiction based on true stories. While the true intention of these works may always be in question there are two schools of thought on the true purpose of ambush journalism.

…on the legality end, tho, aren’t set-ups referred to as entrapment? – Ron Bergeron

Is it for self-promotion?

The most obvious gain from ambush journalism is notoriety. Regardless of the quality of the story it will get noticed and so will the person who created it. While the names of ambush journalists quickly make headlines themselves and these journalists oftentimes become the center of the story this fame is not always a positive long-term career move. James O’keefe gained huge amounts of personal publicity for his actions towards ACORN but after it was revealed that his reporting was actually fabricated his reputation as a legitimate journalist was lost.

Is it for political gain?

More often than not, the practitioners of ambush journalism are looking for sensationalism – they want people (including public officials or officials of private corporations) to make stupid or borderline illegal mistakes – Ehsan Ahrari

Because most of the ambush stories have been around political figures and organizations and have shown each in poor (if even falsely so) lights many people see this as strictly a political tool. Some talk show journalists, namely Bill O’Riely, have publicly declared ambush journalism to be their chosen style of reporting and are open about their political goals with it.

While the reason behind these deceptive techniques may remain a partial mystery the effects of them are very real and in many cases extremely harmful to those that are the recipients of the ambush. Organizations have gone under, individuals have lost jobs and personal lives have been shattered because of sensationalized headlines, which in some cases have been found to be entirely untrue. All of this leaves us with big questions as to if ambush journalism can be considered journalism at all? Even more so, if its not journalism is it simply libel, and why are these ambushers seemingly immune to the laws that others would be prosecuted with?

For More Than Just Tech

17 Mar

Based on the high use within the tech industry many have come to see LinkedIn as a social network of professionals and business people but mostly as a place for business people to find and network with technical job seekers. The article LinkedIn for Journalists shows that this just isn’t so.

Its easy to envision how LinkedIn can be used by recruiters and even by prospective employers but not so much for journalists. Recruiters see LinkedIn as a great tool because they can find anyone, in almost any industry and select for specific experiences and skills, without ever having to make a phone call or ask for a resume. Employers see it as an asset because it takes care of the problem of asking for references and vetting the histories and connections of possible employees. As it turns out these LinkedIn functions are the same that are used by journalists.

LinkedIn for journalists come down to two main topics, transparency and research.

Transparency:

With the rise of the internet as a source of data, one of the biggest issues in journalism is ensuring that you’re information is real. While LinkedIn is still venerable to falsification of information the incentive to provide factual information for business reasons is high. The connection to other professionals (not necessarily friends) is also measure towards ensuring info can be backed up and verified by largely reliable third parties.

Research:

What could be better for researching issues and how they relate to people than a large, searchable database of people related to industries and how the work that they did (all filled with keywords)? For a journalist trying to track down leads for a story this LinkedIn is an invaluable resource. Facebook may have a patent on social searching but LinkedIn is the original social search engine for business professionals.

Its true that nothing can replace the hard work of gathering information and looking at it in new ways until all the pieces fit together but LinkedIn does a pretty nice job of making all of that easier. Now if it had a tool to mind-map all of the data you want to save… that would be great.

Can LinkedIn Top the News Paper Pile?

16 Mar

I suppose that for most of us news no longer comes in paper form; however, I still envision my virtual news in a similar fashion to the rustled piles of papers that used to sit atop the breakfast table. On a lazy Sunday every item would be carefully read and discussed over breakfast but with hustle and bustle of the week invariably one paper always hit the top of the stack while the others were often left unread. The same is true with the way news is read online – only the most effective news source gets daily attention.

For the past few months my news viewing has been dominated by feedsquares, the pretty little UI that organizes google’s rss reader. I’ve enjoyed this because it allows me to select the news sources I enjoy and place all of them in a single spot. On those days that I have an extra few minutes and want to learn a little more about the goings on in the world today I also frequent twitter, paper.li and sometimes even good ol’ yahoo.

The prospect of LinkedIn introducing a news style article aggregate gave me an excited hope for a news venue that may be even more relevant than my current approach. The past week I’ve made a conscious effort to use both news aggregates equally in an effort for fair comparison.

I love the customization that LinkedIn Today offers, from the first get-go most of the content was already interesting to be because it was based on my profile and usage (I know privacy hounds dislike this but I personally love it), then I was able to add interests and customize further. The end result was an easy to read and highly relevant news page. In many ways this was a triumph over a rss reader because content was centered around industries rather than just sources. This resulted in considerably fewer articles to glance over in order to  find the ones that I really wanted to read.

If my only concern regarding news was business and industry on a global level then LinkedIn Today would definitely win. Unfortunately there is a big component currently missing from the news aggregate… the ability to add local content. As a small business owner I’m as concerned with my local news and politics as I am with global industry news. Global news may have implications on my big picture and strategies but local news is what matters most to my daily operations and the lives of those I serve. The other tiny downside to LinkedIn Today is the absence of browser extensions. Its not a deal breaker but it is a very helpful thing to have a toolbar shortcut or better yet a preview of news prior to searching for your bookmark or heaven forbid actually typing in an url.

All in all I think LinkedIn Today shows great promise at providing targeted and relevant news. Yes, there are some improvements that would be nice but as a first release they did a fine job. As for me, I’ll probably check in when I’m on LinkedIn for other purposes but I’ll give them a few more months and a couple of iterations before I make a switch from my current primary news aggregates.